President Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the forthcoming vacancy on the High Court left by the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy was nominated by then-President Ronald Reagan and has served for 31 years.
Although nominated by a Republican, Kennedy became a reliably independent voice, providing swing votes on such landmark issues as marriage-equality, affirmative action and the campaign finance case known as Citizens United.
Kavanaugh, Mr. Trump hopes, will follow in the same mold.
Kavanaugh, 53, currently serves as a federal appeals court judge but his ties to official Washington and the Republican establishment go back decades. He is a former aide to President George W. Bush and played a large role in independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigation of President Bill Clinton during the 1990s. Kavanaugh, working for Starr, was a strong advocate for, and laid out broad legal grounds to impeach Clinton.
Kavanaugh’s legal credentials are impeccable: He is a graduate of Yale and Yale Law School. He also actually clerked for Justice Kennedy, and currently teaches at Harvard, Yale and Georgetown. He reportedly impressed President Trump during his interview, and was also endorsed enthusiastically by White House Counsel Don McGahn.
“He is a brilliant jurist, with a clear and effective writing style, universally regarded as one of the finest and sharpest legal minds of our time,” President Trump said during his prime time announcement ceremony from the White House last night.
“There is no one in America more qualified for this position, and no one more deserving.”
But it is precisely his long track record working with, and against, past administrations that have some on the Republican side of the aisle worried. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly told President Trump that two other nominees whom he was considering, Judges Thomas Hardiman and Raymond Kethledge, would have an easier path to confirmation should they be nominated.
People familiar with the President’s thinking say McConnell’s warnings may have had the opposite effect on President Trump, pushing him closer to choosing Kavanaugh. McConnell called the pick “superb” after it was announced.
Democrats, unsurprisingly, took the opposing view, warning that with Kavanaugh’s selection, decisions in landmark cases such as Roe v. Wade and Obamacare are jeopardized.
“I will oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination with everything I have, and I hope a bipartisan majority will do the same. The stakes are simply too high for anything less,” said Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in the wake of the announcement.
Still, it is unclear what Democrats can do to stop Kavanaugh’s appointment from going through. Because of a rule change made during the confirmation battle of President Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee last year, only a simple majority is needed to get Kavanaugh on the bench.
Republicans currently control 51 seats in the U.S. Senate and because Kavanaugh is perhaps the least conservative choice President Trump could have made, he is likely to enjoy wide support in the Senate.
With a second appointment to the Supreme Court, President Trump will have successfully tilted the Court’s slant rightward for perhaps a generation. Consequences of that shift have already been felt with the Court’s recent decisions on cases such as the travel ban and gerrymandering.
President Trump’s first appointee, Justice Neil Gorsuch, provided enough support to shift the decisions in those cases in the conservative direction.
Photo by The White House